Selma 50th: Honor the Past. Build the Future.

Saturday, March 7, I began my day at 3 am to catch a 6 am flight out of Albany NY International Airport to Selma, Alabama to join the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday commemorations. Selma was sunlit when I arrived, though I was not quite early enough to get to the Edmund Pettus Bridge to hear President Obama.

For me, fortunately, the main event would be the next day, when I would walk across the bridge with my friend, and so many others who had made the trip to Selma from all over the United States. I met people from North Carolina, Florida, California, Virginia, Tennessee, Michigan–some of us there because we remembered Selma 1965, or because we learned about Bloody Sunday in school, from parents, or as a young man told me–just recently, because of the movie. All of us were there to honor history and because we shared a concern for the future, heightened by the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, the persistent murders of young blacks by police, and the socioeconomic inequality that has a strangle hold on this nation.

Walking down Broad Street through a mass of vendors selling t-shirts, sweat shirts, posters, and items not of a memorabilia bent, I got to the bridge by 9am, and there was only a smattering of others milling about at that hour. According to the schedule a pre-march rally was set for 1:30, but from what I had seen the previous day, I knew plans could change, and I wanted to be at the front of the line. Nearby, a building’s face was almost entirely covered by a sign which read “Honor the Past. Build the Future,” beneath which was a photo of youths. I talked with Howard, a videographer from Tuscaloosa, AL, who had stationed himself and his equipment at the bridge’s rise. “I like it that all types of people are here. We may not all have the same needs, but we share concerns.” A fifteen year old boy from Florida had come with his Auntie. “It’s awesome,” he said.

By noon a crowd extended seemingly forever away from the Bridge, and looking back, all I could see was a potpourri of colors. The sun was overhead and it was hot. Finally, at 2pm, we began to walk, and somehow I was no longer at the front, but I was close enough. Chanting, “What do we want? Voting Rights. When do we want it? Now,” we made our way across. Up ahead I could see signs which read, and hear the chant “Black Lives Matter.” Reaching the other side of the Bridge, I was greeted by the haunting sound of the shofar being blown by white and black, men and a woman. The long horns usher in the Jewish New Year, and the jubilee in which, every fifty years, Jewish law provided for the release of all slaves, land, and debts.

By 4pm, after two hours, getting back across was a struggle, and the crowd waiting still seemed endless. While I was too young to be on the original march, I knew I had to be in Selma this year, to acknowledge the past and to be a voice for the future. The gathering of at least 50,000 including octogenarians (who inspired me as I wearied from standing), to parents with young children, felt like a family, with the message that all our lives matter. “We all need each other,” someone said.

I’ve been asked, what’s next for me, and I’m not sure. Always, I have the question, what can I do? Going to Selma, in some sense was easy. Continuing the work at home is where the real challenge begins.

About the Author

Nancy Jainchill is a psychologist living and working in New York with her husband and two dogs. She has published extensively in the field of treatment for adolescents with substance use problems, and is currently working on a memoir.